Report: Election Committee Was Told Voting Could Be Called Off by War

israel elections
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz (L) Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as time runs out before the election. (Reuters/Amir Cohen/File)

Israel was so close to going to war in Gaza just a few days ago that the government put the Central Election Committee on notice that the voting might have to be called off because of an outbreak of hostilities, according to a report in Haaretz on Monday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched the national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, last week to inform Central Elections Committee chairman Hanan Melcer about the fluid situation.

Ben-Shabbat invited Melcer to attend a high-level security meeting where military options were to be discussed. He reportedly did so on the advice of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

On Friday morning, PM Netanyahu said publicly that “an operation in Gaza could happen at any moment, including four days before the elections. The date of the elections does not factor [into a decision to go to war].”

Following the report, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of wanting to start a war because he expects to lose Tuesday’s election. “Now he’s lost it and wants to drag us into war to postpone the elections.

“[This is a] scenario that belongs [in political fiction], not in the State of Israel,” Gantz said.

According to earlier reports on Monday, Mandelblit was credited with thwarting the prime minister’s war plans.

Netanyahu had advocated a major Israeli attack on Hamas power centers in Gaza, but the IDF’s relatively mild response was due to hesitation by top security officials regarding the wisdom of such an attack. However, the report said, the main issue that held back the attack was Mandelblit’s position, which demanded that the Cabinet be consulted first.

Mandelbit – who gave his opinion over the phone, as he was not present at the meeting – based his reservation on a Basic Law that was passed last year, that no “major” military actions that could lead to war be taken unless the Cabinet discussed it first. The law was passed based on recommendations by a panel Netanyahu had appointed in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war.

On Monday night, with the opening of the polls less than 12 hours away, Channel 13 news aired a damaging report, quoting a source with knowledge of the security meetings last week as accusing Netanyahu of being on the verge of ordering a major military operation for political gain.

The source claimed that it was a reaction to the Gaza rocket attack that forced him to leave the stage during a campaign stop in order to take cover, that he felt he needed to show strength after the incident.

“Something happened to him,” one source, who is said to have worked with Netanyahu for years, is quoted as saying. “In the past, he never played with [Israel’s] security for political ends.”

According to the report, senior figures in the defense establishment — among them the chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet—ultimately blocked a major strike. They reportedly argued that it would be an overreaction to a relatively minor incident, that could draw a massive retaliation from Gaza: hundreds of rockets, including some on the Tel Aviv area.

The defense officials also reportedly said that such an operation would entail calling up reserve units.

Updated Monday, September 16, 2019 at 2:21 pm added news